PINE BLUFF — A $3.2 million grant to the University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff to assist underserved Arkansas forest landowners was announced Friday by Homer Wilkes, under secretary for U.S. Department of Agriculture Natural Resources and Environment.

Farmers are affected by climate change and helping the underserved small-acreage landowners to keep their forest land can help mitigate the effects on their lives and livelihoods, Wilkes said.

The four groups defined by USDA as historically underserved include those who are new to agriculture, veterans, “of limited resources” or who are “socially disadvantaged.”

“When you start looking at wildfires, drought, insects, disease, all of these are the effects of climate change,” Wilkes said.

“For the forestry landowners here, it’s going to open up new markets that we want them to have access to, when costs were prohibiting them from doing that … Rather than cutting and deforesting their timber, they can have carbon markets where they can do trades — we want them to get exposed to these ideas.”

A USDA news release about Friday’s announcement noted that emerging private-sector climate markets can incentivize landowners to keep forests healthy and productive, “through reforestation, improved forest management and other sustainable practices. These markets can allow outside investment to reach private landowners for long-term land management.”

The funding was part of a $145 million total investment from Inflation Reduction Act funding; $116 million of the total investment will be awarded to 20 forest landowner support projects, and many of these awardees will represent or support underserved landowners based in or providing benefits to disadvantaged areas, per a USDA news release on Friday.

South Carolina-based Center for Heirs’ Property Preservation was awarded nearly $1.5 million to assist UAPB — via education and technical assistance — with helping Arkansas landowners navigate heirs property issues and forestry-focused technical assistance.

“It was a pleasure to hear Undersecretary Wilkes share the notice of the investment the Forest Service is making to support organizations like ours to remove the barrier of heirs’ property, which is preventing our underserved forest landowners [from accessing] emerging markets,” said Jennie Stephens, chief executive officer of the Center for Heirs’ Property Preservation.

The U.S. Endowment for Forestry and Communities was awarded more than $1.7 million to help UAPB expand assistance “to Arkansas landowners into new counties while supporting better tracking of efforts to assist families with retaining land and accessing climate markets,” according to the USDA news release.

USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service and the U.S. Forest Service both received funding to support climate-smart agriculture and forestry activities via the Inflation Reduction Act; the act provided the Forest Service $450 million to support family forest landowners, which is where the $145 million funds come from, according to Wilkes’ office.

“In the recent [agriculture] census, as we saw a decline in the number of farmers, period, we saw the greatest decline in one group: Black farmers,” said Dewayne Goldmon, senior advisor for Racial Equity to the Secretary of Agriculture.

Goldmon is an Altheimer-based farmer and was executive director of the National Black Growers Council before his appointment to the USDA position in 2021.

“And you have to look at the history — so when you look at Arkansas, relatively speaking, there’s a pretty good number of Black farmers here but they tend to be underserved because if they are participating in [USDA] programs, they don’t participate as fully and their equitable distribution of resources is still a challenge.”

The number of African American or Black farms in Arkansas declined by just over 6% between 2017 and 2022, according to USDA agriculture census data.

There are 19 million total acres of forestland in Arkansas.

Most Arkansas forestland is privately owned; private owners hold more than 80% of forestland in the state as of February, according to the Arkansas Economic Development Commission.



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